Evolution of Democrats' platform on climate, energy

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 05, 2012 4:42 AM
Evolution of Democrats' platform on climate, energy

WASHINGTON, Sept 5 (Reuters Point Carbon) - The Democratic party has restated its commitment to combat climate change and boost clean energy in the party platform it will approve on Tuesday at the 2012 party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But compared to its 2008 party platform, the 2012 version, called Moving America Forward, offers more restrained statements about the urgency of addressing climate change and shifts the party's energy strategy away from going "green" toward an "all-of-the-above" approach, a phrase also used in the Republican's 2012 platform.

The political realities of the past four years have likely curbed the Democrats' ability to pursue the kind of energy and environment agenda they outlined in 2008.

A bill establishing a cap-and-trade system to curb carbon emissions, which the Democrats outlined in their 2008 platform, passed in the House of Representatives in 2009 but died in the Senate in 2010 after a bitter partisan fight.

House Republicans in the House of Representatives, after winning a majority in the 2010 midterm elections, then turned their focus to the administration's plans to curb carbon and other air pollutants from power plants and industrial facilities, passing bills to strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its authority to regulate these emissions.


The party said it would pursue a combination of "regulation and market solutions" to reduce domestic carbon emissions in the 2012 platform, but did not say it would make a fresh attempt to get cap-and-trade legislation passed.

In 2008, the Democrats said explicitly mentioned cap and trade and said they would set mandatory carbon targets to ensure that emitters reduce their emissions consistently.

"We will implement a market-based cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic change and we will set interim targets along the way to ensure that we meet our goal," according to the 2008 platform.


The 2012 platform also tempers the party's position on the U.S. role in United Nations climate negotiations, stepping back from promising to deliver a legally binding international treaty.

In 2008, the Democrats promised to bring the U.S. off "the sidelines" of international efforts to address climate change, and said a global response would include "binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions."

Four years and three international climate conferences later, the Democrats removed the goal of getting agreement on binding commitments and instead called for "decisive action by all nations" - an acknowledgement of the reality that the divided U.S. Congress will not be able to sign another binding treaty.

"Our goal is an effective, international effort in which all major economies commit to reduce their emissions, nations meet their commitments in a transparent manner, and the necessary financing is mobilized so that developing countries can mitigate the effects of climate change and invest in clean energy technologies," the platform says.


The 2012 platform also reflects a shift away from an emphasis on the role of renewable energy in the U.S. economy and toward an acknowledgement of the role that fossil fuels, such as natural gas and oil, will continue to play.

Since the 2008 elections, a boom in shale gas production has created a natural gas surplus in the U.S., which has caused gas prices to drop to record lows and greenhouse gas emissions to fall to their lowest first-quarter level in 20 years in 2012.

"We know we can't drill our way to energy independence," the 2008 platform said. "We must invest in research and development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies - such as solar, wind, geothermal, as well as technologies to store enough energy through advanced batteries and clean up our coal plants."

The new platform acknowledged the important role the shale supply will play, saying it has ushered in "a new era of cheap, abundant natural gas" which "is helping to bring jobs and industry back to the United States."

The Democrats borrowed a phrase that has been used by Republicans to explain that the U.S. will need to take an "all-of-the-above" approach to developing the country's abundant resources, from renewables to "nuclear, oil, clean coal and natural gas."


The 2012 platform addresses politicization of the science of climate change, which has intensified in Congress over the past few years.

"Our opponents have moved so far to the right as to doubt the science of climate change, advocate the selling of our federal lands, and threaten to roll back environmental protections that safeguard public health," the platform says.

The debates have flared up this summer, which has been ranked as one of the top three hottest summers on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said in an interview on Tuesday that he believes the world is getting warmer, but said there "remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk."

The party platform was endorsed at the party's convention on Tuesday. Obama will accept his party's nomination on Thursday night.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici)